Lesson Plan: Sharing Dr. Bryce’s Story
By: Leah Judd
Leah Judd has a passion for teaching Social Studies. Working in Sechelt, BC, Leah has been lucky to work with students who embrace inquiry learning and created locker museum displays during the pandemic to share their curated stories with the school community. Leah shares her enthusiasm for Social Studies as editor of Salon, an online quarterly publication from the Social Studies Educators Network of Canada @ssencressc
Suggested Subject Areas
Adaptable across 9-12 / Sec V
Imaging a play depicting the struggle of Dr. Bryce’s attempts to have health recommendations for residential schools implemented after his report to the federal government in 1907 and again in 1922. How does Dr. Bryce’s story empower people today? How has his legacy been shaped, and how can we frame it for this play? Whose voices will we hear in this play, and from whose perspective will the narrative take? Remember to include Indigenous storytelling resources whenever possible, to collaborate meaningfully with local Indigenous communities as possible, and to ensure that Indigenous students are playing Indigenous roles.
Dr. Bryce was commissioned by the Government of Canada to visit, investigate and suggest public health recommendations for residential schools, which he delivered in 1907. Rather than implement the regulations he suggested, the report was shelved. Dr. Bryce continued to push for changes in the provision of health standards and education at residential schools, by self-publishing his pamphlet The Story of a National Crime in 1922. The legacy of his report and paper can still be determined by sharing different voices and viewpoints of those impacted by Dr. Bryce’s observations in 1907.
These outcomes are drawn from the British Columbia Social Studies 10 Curriculum, but can be adapted, removed, or added to to reflect any location and curriculum.
Students will be able to:
- Use Social Studies inquiry processes and skills to ask questions; gather, interpret, and analyze ideas and data; and communicate findings and decisions,
- Assess the significance of people, places, events, or developments, and compare varying perspectives on their significance at particular times and places, and from group to group (significance), and
- Assess how underlying conditions and the actions of individuals or groups influence events, decisions, or developments, and analyze multiple consequences (cause and consequence).
- How can our class share the story of Dr. Bryce’s reports to respond to the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report?
With Call to Action #63 in mind (Education for Reconciliation), wherein the TRC calls on Canada “to maintain an annual commitment to Aboriginal education issues, including:
- Developing and implementing Kindergarten to Grade Twelve curriculum and learning resources on Aboriginal peoples in Canadian history, and the history and legacy of residential schools.
- Sharing information and best practices on teaching curriculum related to residential schools and Aboriginal history.
- Building student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect.”
- How can we create a play that avoids cultural appropriation in our storytelling?
- How do we go about contacting an Indigenous elder/knowledge keeper for support on how to integrate Indigenous perspectives meaningfully?
- How do we approach Indigenous oral tradition in the creation of this play and in storytelling more generally?
Answering Through Drama
Students will create scenes in a live play or podcast (like a radio play) to present to other students. The focus will be Dr. Bryce’s struggle to have the Government of Canada follow through on his recommendations for equitable public health supports for Indigenous Peoples. Students will choose which voices need to be heard in this play, use primary sources to establish ‘scenes’ for the play, include both written and oral testimonies, and locate schools Dr. Bryce visited on a map.
Additional Resources: Presenting Difficult Situations via Theatre
8 Men Speak
Let Them Howl
Children of God
Theatre companies will sometimes deliver their territorial acknowledgments in a creative and active way. How can we use performance to deliver an acknowledgement that is purposeful and creative?
Read more here about developing territorial acknowledgements and check out Native Land Digital to learn more about the territory you live on.
Introduction (30-60 minutes)
Introduce Dr. Bryce and his work, especially his 1922 pamphlet The Story of a National Crime, to students by showing them the video Peter Bryce and The Story of a National Crime.
Follow up with this CBC article (and the Unreserved podcast episode, if you like): depending on your class, you can do a communal reading, read independently, or read in small groups.
Together with students, create a list of 3-5 key learnings about Dr. Bryce and The Story of a National Crime. This can be on chart paper, post-it notes, the chalkboard, etc.
In small groups, invite students to look at these responses to Dr. Bryce’s report, compiled by the First Nations Education Steering Committee. Be sure to remind students that they will encounter language and terms used historically that are not appropriate for non-Indigenous people to use in reference to Indigenous people. Have students take note of or discuss what stands out to them in these responses.
As additional or alternate resources for introducing Dr. Bryce and his reports, refer to:
- The Story of a National Crime text
- The Story of a National Crime audio recording by Miles Morrisseau
- The Story of a National Crime glossary
- “A National Crime” article by Miles Morrisseau
- Dr. Bryce lesson plan series
- We Need to Talk About Bryce podcast series (especially episode #1)
- A National Crime documentary
Activity/Interactive/Group Discussion (3×45 minute classes)
Setting the Context
Introduce the drama assignment with the following questions:
- Who needs to hear the story of Dr. Bryce, his report, and responses to it today?
- How can we share this story with others?
- Whose perspectives do we need to include alongside that of Dr. Bryce?
- What criteria will we use to decide whose voices are necessary to include?
These questions can be asked as a whole class discussion, by assigning 1-2 questions each to small groups of 3-5 students, or independently (students brainstorming about one, some, or all by themselves).
If it’s a nice day outside and there is accessible outdoor space, the teacher can also take the students outside to walk and talk while they loop around the school perimeter or field, or to sit together in a circle outside. On an inclement weather day or if outdoor space is not accessible, students could instead walk around the hallways or spill out into other indoor space. Then, students could return to a large group discussion upon returning to the classroom.
Writing Scenes for a Play or Podcast
After this discussion has concluded, the teacher will tell the students that they are going to write a play or a podcast about Dr. Bryce, his recommendations, the government’s response, and the publication of The Story of a National Crime in 1922.
As a whole class, students and teachers should collaboratively take time to:
- choose whether they’d like to create a live performed play or a recorded podcast (everyone will be writing scenes towards one larger piece together, not separate performances or podcasts),
- brainstorm a list of scenes to include in the overall production, each one representing a different voice or “chapter” in the overall story,
- summarize together the “why” or the purpose of including perspectives and stories beyond Dr. Bryce’s, and the importance of sharing these stories here and now,
- determine a meaningful audience for the piece (younger students? peers in other classes from the same grade?),
- establish scene criteria for everyone to follow (aiming for approximately 30-45 minutes, or one period, as the total length of the piece), and
- determine how the group will meaningfully incorporate Indigenous voices and stories without appropriating them—what resources does the school have in terms of connections to local Indigenous communities, nations, elders, and knowledge keepers? Are there online resources to support
Next, the teacher should decide on the creation of small groups of 3-4 for scene development, as works best for their students and classroom environment. Each of these small groups with research, write, and present one scene within the larger scope of the play. It is at the teacher’s discretion how student groups will choose or be assigned to specific scenes based on classroom context.
Based on the class criteria developed, students could record their scenes as video clips, audio clips, or prepare their scenes for live presentation, which could also be approached as reader’s theatre with a focus on reading the script aloud. If possible, students should have some space to work in different areas (inside or outside).
Important Teacher Considerations
To ensure the appropriate and thoughtful development and presentation of these scenes, students should not create sets or wear costumes. The voices of the stories are key, not visual representation or appropriation. As such, students should focus on embedding information from a multitude of sources, such as those shared above. There are also additional relevant resources from Indigenous educators, scholars, and knowledge keepers within the larger scope of the Bryce@100 project, such as Miles Morrisseau’s article “A National Crime,” Kaila Johnston’s article “Preventoriums at Residential Schools,” or Émilie Lebel’s series Residential Schools and the Destabilization of Social Determinants of Health.
If students are curious about what residential schools looked like, teachers can share age and stage appropriate photographs from archives such as the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at the University of British Columbia, or Library and Archives Canada.
If a teacher and their students have not previously talked about the importance of oral storytelling within Indigenous communities, this lesson is a great opportunity to explore the significance of orality and shared stories. Some potential resources to engage with are:
We Need to Talk About Bryce podcast
Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada: Oral Storytelling
Comox Valley Schools: Indigenous Education: Oral Tradition
Indigenous Corporate Training: 11 Things You Should Know About Indigenous Oral Traditions
Indigenous Foundations (University of British Columbia): Oral Traditions
And, as always, this is an opportunity to build ongoing and reciprocal relationships with Indigenous communities, nations, elders, and knowledge keepers, if the teacher or school has not already started doing so.
Opportunities for Differentiation and Extension
- Students could select one (or more) image(s) from the archives or Bryce@100 resources listed above that they feel reflects the stories and perspectives in their scene. Students can write or share aloud a brief reflection about why they chose the image and its connection to their scene.
- Students could search for and select music that they feel connects to or supports their scene, engaging especially in Indigenous-created music, then write or share aloud a brief reflection about why they chose that music.
- Students could create a map (digital or by hand) of the schools Dr. Bryce visited. This map could include Indigenous territory names, names of Indigenous nations on those lands (historically and presently), and treaty numbers or names that govern those lands. Students could brainstorm other meaningful additions or inclusions for the map. Native Land Digital is a good starting point resource for this.
Presentation and Reflection (60-75 minutes)
The teacher and students can collaboratively create reflection questions they want to answer individually and/or in their small presentation groups after the play/podcast sharing. These questions can be reflections on content included, inclusion of diverse voices and experiences, strength of the script, collaboration skills, organization and time management, etc. Students can engage with these questions in a notebook or on a Google Form, or other method that suits the classroom.
The teacher should support the class in honing the questions list down to 3-5 questions to support student attention and connection to the reflection task.
If the class is presenting to an external audience (e.g. other classes), the teacher and students should also determine together whether they want to gather feedback or reflections from that audience, and what kind of preparatory statement should be shared with the audience before they watch (i.e. advance notice of content). The class should also include the teachers from their audience groups in this process.
Time to present!
If the audience is answering any feedback or reflection questions/prompts, they can do so either immediately after the experience or separately upon returning to their own classrooms—check in with the teachers of those audience groups about their insights on the timing and location of this.
After the audience leaves (either immediately after or during the next class period), students can answer the reflection questions as created before the performance.
Assessment (45-60 minutes)
The teacher should spend 5-10 minutes with each small group (i.e. each scene group), with a focus on the guiding questions and learning objectives for the task. The teacher might ask about:
- understanding of Dr. Bryce’s work and The Story of a National Crime,
- different perspectives and voices impacted by this work and the larger context of residential schools, specifically Indigenous Peoples,
- criteria the group used to create their scene (e.g. what to include and exclude),
- other groups’ scenes that impacted them and supported their learning,
- contextual learning about residential schools, Indigenous Peoples, oral storytelling, archives, or otherwise, depending on what the class explored.
If the teacher develops a rubric to evaluate student work, they should include the presentation itself, student knowledge as shared in this conversation, and student personal reflections from the prior step in the lesson, amongst other elements the teacher might be assessing in their classroom.